It could be a ‘banner year’ for blueberries, farmers say

  • Tamara McKerchie of Sunderland picks blueberries with her children Ophelia, 7, and Orson, 4, at Quonquont Farm in Whately. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pick-your-own blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan and Larry Flaccus pick some highbush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan Flaccus holds up a hand full of highbush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Blueberries galore at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gwen Dwyer, of Leeds, picks blueberries at Birdhaven Blueberry farm in Southampton Thursday afternoon, July 9, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2020 2:08:58 PM

With the “pick-your-own” blueberry season now off to a busy start, local farmers say 2020 could prove to be a banner year despite the COVID-19 policies that are in place.

Located at 9 North Street in Whately, Quonquont farm opened for “pick-your-own” blueberries July 7, with new COVID-19 policies to keep employees and customers safe.

The farm, which maintains two acres of high-bush blueberries, is open for pick-your-own blueberries and flowers Tuesday to Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Using guidelines developed by the state Department of Agricultural Resources, the farm is open for pick-your-own with the conditional approval of the local Board of Health.

“People have really turned out,” said Farm Manager Leslie Harris. “They’re interested in what things we’re doing to keep them, and ourselves, safe.”

She said the summer has turned out to be a “banner year,” thanks to the nice crop of blueberries and customer support. Even though policies limit some social aspects of the activity, Harris said people are hungry to get outside, and support local business.

According to Harris, COVID-19 policies include a requirement to wear a mask and keep 6 feet of distance from other parties. Depending on the number of customers at a given time, patrons may be assigned to picking in specific rows or areas. Customers are asked to follow all entrance, exit, and one-way row signs. If they are accompanied by children, they must remain masked, unless they’re under 2 years old and within arm’s reach. The farm also asks that customers not bring their dog to the farm.

“People are already very used to doing this,” Harris said of COVID-19-based policies. “They’ve been good sports despite the heat.”

Containers from home are prohibited this year, and the farm will provide pint containers. Blueberries are being sold for $4 a pint, which is approximately one pound. Hand washing and sanitizing stations are available before entering or exiting the field. Customers are also asked not to eat the fruit while picking.

“We know it’s tempting, but eating means removing your mask and touching your mouth,” reads the farm website. “Wait until you are home and have had a chance to wash your hands, please.”

More information on COVID-19 restrictions can be found on quonquont.com.

Harris said the blueberry season at Quonquont Farm lasts until early August, at which point it switches to pick-your-own operations in its peach orchard, and apples in September. The Quonquont farm stand is open Tuesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For customers who want fresh fruit or flowers, but don’t want to expose themselves to other customers, or can’t follow the restrictions, the farm has established an online system for patrons to order ahead for “barn side” pickup.

Sobieski’s RiverValley Farm

The 2020 season for pick-your-own blueberries began July 11 for Sobieski’s River Valley Farm. Located at 239 River Road, Whately, the farm is now open every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The farm is welcoming customers to visit the farm for pick-your-own produce, while following COVID-19 health precautions.

Maya Soley, an employee at Sobieski’s River Valley Farm, said they are requiring all customers to wear masks and maintain at least six feet of distance from other parties. Additionally, dogs are not allowed on the farm or in the blueberry fields.

“We will provide containers, but if people if want to bring their own they’re welcome to,” said Soley.

In addition to pick-your-own harvesting, the Whately farm offers retail and wholesale purchase options. Established in 1977, the Sobieski family continues the tradition of producing “the finest quality and best tasting blueberries available,” grown using environmentally friendly IPM and organic methods. Despite the lasting COVID-19 pandemic, the farm has seen a successful start to its summer season.

“It’s actually my first year working here, but I’ve been told it’s almost busier than it’s ever been,” said Soley.

Pick-your-own blueberries are being sold for $3.29 per pound. While Sobieski’s River Valley Farm does not offer other pick-your-own options, it has a large variety of other produce, including raspberries, zucchini and more available for purchase.

Kenburn Orchards

Kenburn Orchards, 1394 Mohawk Trail, Shelburne, is open for pick-your-own from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Co-owner Larry Flaccus said the “picking was fantastic” this week as customers turned out to collect the Reka and Patriot varieties of blueberries currently available. The farm also grows Aurora and Blue Crop blueberries, which will be available in coming weeks, as they ripen at different speeds.

In preparing for the 2020 summer season, Flaccus said he and his wife, co-owner Susan Flaccus, had to follow health safety policies set by the state Department of Agriculture.

“We probably spent over $1,000 to comply with COVID-19 regulations,” Flaccus said.

In addition to providing hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer, the previously cash-only farm purchased a credit and debit card reader to avoid contact and exchange of dollar bills. The policies also prohibit eating in the fields and require masks be worn at all times.

The farm has also been using plastic bags placed inside the regular harvesting buckets, so customers can remove the bag and place them on the scale without touching the buckets themselves. Even with this method, Flaccus said the buckets are sanitized after use.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com.

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